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Earth system science views the Earth as a system of interrelated phenomena – nothing, regardless of how insignificant it seems, happens on Earth without affecting at least one other aspect of the Earth’s ecospheric system, if not more. This system is governed by complex regulations and processes within the geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere of Earth. (Universities Space Research Association, http://www.usra.edu) These regulations, interrelations, and processes can more readily be defined as Earth’s Natural Systems.

Earth system science is actually a circumstantial expansion of systems theory, which cyberneticist Ross Ashby defines as “the trans-disciplinary study of the abstract organization of phenomena, independent of their substance, type, or spatial or temporal scale of existence.” (Introduction to Cybernetics, 1956) Considering this more general definition, earth system science indicates that if aspects (sub-systems, or spheres) of Earth’s natural systems were destroyed or damaged, it would lessen that sub-system’s ability to function within the natural cycle of the overall system. For example, if the atmosphere were severely damaged, it would lessen its ability to fulfill its role within the ecosphere, or overall natural system. This circumstance and others like it will be examined in detail below.

The first thing which should be brought into consideration is the rampant and sometimes misguided zealotry with which environmentalists attach blame for problems with the Earth’s environment. For every hundred cases of terrible pollution perpetrated upon the Earth by big business, there are one or two cases which are labeled as such and actually turn out to be natural phenomena. A good example of this is the supposed environmental catastrophe which was apparently producing deformed frogs. In 1995 Minnesota school children discovered frogs with misshapen feet and extra limbs in a pond near their elementary school, prompting local news coverage and then, later on, an AP story which led to a national environmentalist frenzy, during which handicapped frogs were discovered all over America. Frogs became the leading bio-indicators of our impending mass destruction and anti-business Green propaganda started spreading like wildfire. However, this all came to a screeching halt in 1999 when Stanley K. Sessions of Hartwick College concluded a study of the hobbled frogs which revealed that a parasite (trematodes) was actually responsible for the birth defects. (Insight Magazine, June 7, 1999) I certainly don’t want to come across as a champion of pollution and irresponsibility; however, I think it wise to view every situation with a little skepticism.

That said, I’ll now go on to say that pollution is destroying the earth’s natural systems at an alarming rate, which is most likely far more alarming than we currently understand.

A primary factor in our current environmental pollution problem is perception. In the Fall 2000 issue of The Journal Of Social Issues, P. Wesley Shultz endeavored to pin down the problem of the individual’s perception of role within the natural environment and that individual’s correlating concern with environmental problems. In summation, he argued that people who are not readily exposed to or involved with nature do not perceive themselves to be significant to the natural environment and hence do not view their individual actions as actions which actually effect the environment or earth’s natural systems. People who are directly involved with nature or animals on a more personal and immediate basis view pollution as harmful to nature and animals, and as such are more likely to express and act with environmental concern. To summarize in a more simple way, most people living in highly industrial or suburban areas have less exposure and interaction with nature (plants and animals in natural environments) and therefore are more likely to pollute or perform environment-damaging actions because they don’t see the consequences of those actions. This is one way, albeit a gross generalization, in which the earth’s natural systems are damaged. The consequence of this type of damage belies a cyclical nature within cities and suburban areas – the more industrialized and removed from nature a society is, the more polluted and damaging to nature it will most likely become, as pollution is a distinct and inexorable outcome of industrialization. Hence, these places on Earth with high concentrations of people who are ignorant or apathetic to the effects their collective lifestyle has upon the environment will continue to damage that environment exponentially.

A very obvious example of damage via pollution to the Earth’s natural systems is the degradation of the ozone layer and the resultant climate changes. Everyone has heard tons of stories and sermons about the ozone layer, how it is depleting, and how global warming will be the result. But what is the result of global warming? Scientists report that climate change is having aggressive and massive effects on insect life; this study examined the pitcher-plant mosquito and how global warming has forced the genetic switch which alerts the adult mosquito when to enter winter-dormancy to trigger nine days later in 1999 than it did in 1972. While this may seem insignificant, it is actually the first proof that global warming is having a severe enough effect to alter the genetic code of life on Earth. (http://www.newscientist.com/hottopics/climate/climate.jsp?id=ns99991525)

The consequences of this aspect of global warming remain to be seen, but other consequences of global warming are obvious. Global warming, a by-product of damage to the atmosphere ozone layer, is causing the overall temperature of the earth to rise, which in turn causes the polar ice caps to melt. This large influx of water will actually alter the earth’s landmasses in shape and size, ultimately reducing the amount of dry land on earth. Damage to the atmosphere is also being pegged as the culprit for widespread increases in cases of skin cancer the world. Basically, every time someone damages the atmosphere and the ozone layer, God kills someone. Maybe if he killed kittens people would pay more attention.

Finally, some countries are more guilty of polluting our world than others. While the U.S. is definitively in the lead by a wide stretch, what Russia lacks in sheer numbers it makes up for in incidental severity. Hard numbers on industrial and toxic waste in Russia are easy to come by, and they are frightening. What is even more frightening is the effect these pollutants are having on its citizenry. While managing to pollute every aspect of the ecosystem in Russia (the country dumps industrial and municipal wastes, chemical munitions, and, until the mid-1990s, solid and liquid radioactive wastes into its adjacent seas) its citizens have also seen the following disturbing trends arise in the last twenty years:

  • A 1996 joint US-Russian government study found that one-quarter of kindergarten pupils in one city had lead concentrations above the threshold at which intelligence is impaired

  • A US government study noted a rise in the incidence of waterborne diseases and environmentally related birth defects.

  • A Russian government report cited air pollution as a contributing factor to 17 percent of childhood and 10 percent of adult illnesses. (http://environment.about.com, Consequences of Pollution)

So there you have it. For some reason, no matter how obvious an environmental problem is, for some reason it escapes most people that each individual problem is only a small part of the larger big mess o’ problems. It will take immediate and severe consequences for the Mass Man to gain a true understanding of the individual’s effect on the earth’s natural systems.

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